Open Senate Project

The Sunlight Foundation was established in 2006 with the primary general purpose of suggesting new methods of implementing online technology as a means to better inform the electorate of the actions of Congress and governmental transparency. The foundation has since built a significant listing of online informational tools that help track the influence of special interests and lobbyists on the workings of Congress. They propose that the days of “government in the dark” are over and the new age communication ability of the representative body should be utilized. The Sunlight Foundation has since made some excellent strides, and also experienced considerable stonewalling on the part of some sections of Congress.

The Open Senate Project was initiated by the Sunlight Foundation in 2007 based on the successful operating model of the prior Open House Project. The focus of both programs was government transparency, along with an assessment of the ability of Congress to provide accurate and timely information concerning their work. Sometimes the focus became inability and a lack of cooperation, as the projects pinpointed shortages of information provided by committee markups and meeting transcripts, along with unnecessary and significant delay of information postings. In some cases, pertinent information was never conveyed. The committees that actually ran online streams were also acknowledged as effective agencies within the governing body, suggesting that all committees should be as responsible in operation and public access.

The Open House Project was started in 2007 by a team of open government activists that were concerned with how digital technology can benefit both Congress and its constituents. The Sunlight Foundation operating model included a regular blog that allowed public discussion of how the House of Representatives could provide better information to the public with respect to the actual work Congress is producing. The Senate, however, was a different story, though Senator Harry Reid invited the foundation’s input. The Senate is designed by the Constitution as a deliberation body, and it essentially is intended to operate as the upper body of Congress. After the Sunlight Foundation presents its recommendations to the Senate in early 2009, the Senate was incorporated through the Open Congress Project, which still continues.

The work of the Sunlight Foundation has recently been very effective in establishing its own information portals for all citizens to access, along with implementing the use of mobile apps that provide real-time information concerning the work of Congress. The Open Congress initiative has grown to include a much larger array of communication tools, along with informational training, to help voters research the movement of the federal government in particular legislative areas of interest.

The contemporary particular focus of the group has been involving online openness, which Congress has been pressured by special interests to impede, and the corruption among members of Congress based on financial secrecy and pressure from special interest lobbying efforts involving campaign contributions. The influence of money in politics is overwhelming, and the ability of elected officials to mask this influence has been intensified through the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling. The mission of the Sunlight Foundation is moving forward, including suggestions on the national debt, and the new administration policies will clearly impact the growth of the foundation movement.